An Exquisite Palette: A Dedication to Two

Here is a re-posting of a short piece I wrote for the fabulous site Art of Mourning. This brooch is truly a work of art in gold, black enamel and hairwork; it is dedicated to two women from the same family. It is another piece from my personal MOLAM collection of mourning jewellery.  Enjoy!

Click here to read the post For An Exquisite Palette: A Dedication to Two.

A mid-Victorian mourning brooch with hairwork dedicated to Agnes & Sarah Robinson

A mid-Victorian mourning brooch with hairwork dedicated to Agnes & Sarah Robinson

Mourning, History & Jewellery in Boston

Mourning ring made for John Gray, the infant son of John and Mary (Otis) Gray, who died six days after his birth in September 1763. The ring is made of gold, with three joined enameled scrolls and large square crystal over gold foil skull set into raised, rayed mount flanked by two small round facet-cut crystals. Scrolls contain text in raised gold Roman capitals in black cloisonné enamel.: "J:GRAY OB.17.SEP.1763.AE 6D."

Mourning ring made for John Gray, the infant son of John and Mary (Otis) Gray, who died six days after his birth in September 1763. The ring is made of gold, with three joined enameled scrolls and large square crystal over gold foil skull set into raised, rayed mount flanked by two small round facet-cut crystals. Scrolls contain text in raised gold Roman capitals in black cloisonné enamel.: “J:GRAY OB.17.SEP.1763.AE 6D.”

Before it closes on the 31st January 2013 you must go and visit the exhibition In Death Lamented at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston – that is, if you are lucky enough to live close by!

Unfortunately we are based on the other side of the world, but I was wise enough to purchase a copy of the accompanying publication which I had to review on Amazon. I couldn’t help myself, I do that sort of thing.

Sarah Nehama I am proud to say has contributed to this blog. She is a jeweller herself and an avid collector of mourning jewellery, many pieces of hers you will see in the collection. She also authored the book. Here is a fascinating interview with her discussing mourning jewellery and items in the exhibition.

If you have seen the exhibit please let me know what you thought of it below in the comments. As a collector of mourning jewellery I would have loved to have seen it myself!

Six Degrees of Thorvaldsen: The Figure of Night

Here is a re-posting of a piece I wrote for the fabulous site Art of Mourning. This brooch, Nyx, is from the MOLAM collection of yours truly. Although a humble piece, as you will read it is rich in its social & art historical context, and jewellery tradition. Happy reading!

Click here to read the post Six Degrees of Thorvaldsen: The Figure of Night

Nyx (Night) with her two children Sleep and Death, in Vulcanite

For Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven

Here is a re-posting of a short piece I wrote for the fabulous site Art of Mourning. This brooch is from the MOLAM collection of yours truly.  Enjoy!

Click here to read the post For Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

In Memory of My Dear Child

Spoilt For Choice: A Classic Seed Pearl Mourning Ring

Here is a re-posting of a short piece I wrote for the fabulous site Art of Mourning. This delightful mourning ring in its original Rundell and Bridge box is in the  MOLAM collection of yours truly. It’s fine craftsmanship is a delight to see. It also explains my decision making process for this particular piece.

Click here to read the post Spoilt for Choice: decision-making 101 for the collector.

Classic Georgian mourning ring dedicated to a Miss Tylor 1797 and Miss Jane Tylor 1804.

Antique Jewellery Collections: Unmissable Links!

This blog does of course celebrate the collecting desire. Closest to the MOLAM heart is antique jewellery, particularly the field of mourning and sentimental jewellery. Many of our readers are friendly with the Art of Mourning site; the most generous, spectacular and in-depth reference site for aficionados of mourning jewellery. Well, there are some other reference pages that also display a generous spirit in sharing their pieces. Let’s take a look:

Cathy Gordon

Possibly one of the most spectacular collections I’ve had the pleasure of eye-molesting. The collector is knowledgeable in an array of fields, and a noted expert on Miriam Haskell jewellery, but it is her Stuart Crystal and eye miniatures that gets my heart racing!

Things Gone By

This is an online retail space, but there are links to previous sales that prove to be a wealth of reference material. Some glorious pieces here on their Things Gone By Museum page.

Time Dances By

The combination of pugs and mourning jewellery – perfecto! Time Dances By is also generous enough to keep links to previously sold items on their Museum page, these type of archival pages are invaluable research links.

Victoria and Albert Museum

Of course many public institutions have started to list their collections on-line, but the V&A are of an altogether different league for antique jewellery enthusiasts. Prepare to be amazed.

Don Shelton

Don Shelton has an extraordinary blog showcasing his extraordinary collection of portrait miniatures. For jewellery enthusiasts you would know that the traditional portrait miniature crossed over into sentimental and mourning jewellery and you will find much to learn and delight in on this site.

Morning Glory Antiques

Morning Glory is another on-line vintage and antique jewellery store, but it to keeps numerous links to previous sales, as well articles and reference information. There are many links to peruse, but Georgian jewelry, and Victorian jewelry are of particular interest.

Museum of Love and Mortality

What? Who me? Yes, we have a Facebook page which we posted a number of personal collection items onto but then Pinterest came along, so we are slowly posting images on there. Also, included are special items that although not in our collection are ones that we admire and covet!

Do you have other reference sites to recommend? Please do so in the comments section below to share knowledge!

From my own personal collection of mourning jewellery. A lovely mourning miniature, 18th C or early 19th C, dedicated to H.

Mourning Rings on Antiques Roadshow

On the US version of Antiques Roadshow they appraised this lovely collection of mourning rings. Aired on April 6, 2009, click on the link and then select which video format you use. A transcript of the appraisal is also available. Very interesting!


A collection of mourning rings appraised on the US Antiques Roadshow April, 2009.



Henry Dove – A Memorial Ring

Mourning ring for Henry Dove. 18ct gold, London, hallmarked for the 1836/1837 period, reappropriated in 1851 and dedicated to Lieutenant Henry Dove RN.

This ring has been in my collection for only a few years. The unique aesthetic character of the ring appealed to me, but it wasn’t until Hayden Peters wrote this analysis of it that I understood what I was responding to. I hope you enjoy Hayden’s article from his Art of Mourning site.

Click here to read about the Henry Dove ring.

From the Dictionary of National Biography, edited by Leslie Stephen and published in 1888 we learn: The Doves are a Surrey family, with generations serving in the Navy. Lieutenant Henry Dove RN was married to Christiana Paterson, who gave birth to their son Patrick Edward Dove (1815 – 1873)a “philosophic writer”of some renown on the 31 July 1815 in Lasswade, near Edinburgh. An ancestor of Henry Dove was William, son of Thomas Dove, bishop of Peterborough. They had been settled in Devonshire since 1716 when Francis Dove, Commodore RNwas appointed Commissioner of the Navy in Plymouth.

Henry Dove retired from active service upon the peace of 1815, and held an appointment at Deal connected with the Cinque Ports. Henry Dove did not allow his son Patrick Edward to “follow his own ardent desire for naval service.” Instead, Patrick Edward went on to be educated in France and England but was expelled from school after leading a “rebellion” against the headmaster. Patrick Edward went on to study farming in Scotland and philosophy! Although there seems to be more information available about his son rather than Henry Dove, it still builds a portrait of a family. Upon Patrick Edward’s death a Professor J. S. Blackie wrote: “he combined in a remarkable degree the manly directness of the man of action with the fine speculation of the man of thought. Altogether, Mr Dove dwells in my mind as one of the most perfect types of the manly thinker whom I have met in the course of a long life.”  And when Patrick Edward died in 1873 he left behind a widow, and 3 of Henry’s grandchildren – a son and two daughters. Fortunately we have an image of a portrait of Henry Dove which appears in Hayden’s article above. However, there is also somewhere out there a portrait of Henry’s son – a “sketch by his friend Mr Seymour Haden”. I presume this is likely to be Francis Seymour Haden, prominent surgeon and etcher, who married the sister of the artist James Whistler. How extraordinarily interesting!

A photo of Seymour Haden from Wikipedia and the public domain.

Opals II: The History of the Myths

“The delicate colour and tenderness of the opal remind me of a loving and beautiful child.” – Onomakritis, Greek poet 6th C BC.

A superb Art Nouveau Marcus & Co brooch (New York), enamelled gold set with opal circa 1900, Victoria & Albert Museum. Height 3.6 cm. If you owned this, the last thing I would call you is unlucky.

Last week American jeweller and collector Sarah Nehama wrote a wonderful piece on the variety of opals and how she has used them in her own work. In the article she touched on the most undeserved reputation that the opal acquired in the 19th century of being an unlucky stone. As the opal is one of my favourite gemstones (alongside moonstones and garnets), and is of course the national stone of Australia I had to look at this further, to discover a bit more about the source of this most unjust superstition and some older emotional associations to the glorious opal.

One of my favourite opal pieces. Boulder opal features as a body of water, with fishermen – one on a boat, the other on rocks, trees on either side, and fence in the foreground, rays of the sun feature atop – all in gold. Circa 1900 by Priora Bros, Sydney. Width 5 cms. Collection unknown.

19th C Misconception

If you know someone who thinks the opal has unlucky connotations you should ask them why. More likely than not they will not be able to answer you. Superstitions often seem to be inherited without basis, so now you can tell them – stuff and nonsense!

The most commonly held source of the unjust superstition stems from Sir Walter Scott’s novel Anne of Geierstein published in 1829.

In George F. Kunz, The curious lore of precious stones published in 1913 he writes of the source of this superstition:

“There can be little doubt that much of the modern superstition regarding the supposed unlucky quality of the opal owes its origin to a careless reading of Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Anne of Geierstein. The wonderful tale therein related of the Lady Hermione, a sort of enchanted princess, who came no one knew whence and always wore a dazzling opal in her hair, contains nothing to indicate that Scott really meant to represent the opal as unlucky. […] when a few drops of holy water were sprinkled over it, they quenched its radiance. Hermione fell into a swoon, was carried to her chamber, and the next day nothing but a small heap of ashes remained on the bed whereon she had been laid. The spell was broken and the enchantment dissolved. All that can have determined the selection of the opal rather than any other precious stone is the fact of its wonderful play of color and its sensitiveness to moisture.”

However, there is another possible source that one comes across here and there. The story of King Alphonso XII of Spain, who was in power from 1874 to 1885. He presented to his wife a gift of an opal ring, tragically she died soon afterwards. Before the funeral, the King passed the ring on to his sister, who also died soon afterwards. Sadly the pattern persisted when the ring was passed to his sister-in-law and she too passed away 3 months later. Alphonso, who obviously didn’t connect the ring with these untimely deaths wore it himself, he also died. The funny thing with superstition emerging from coincidental patterns is that it could randomly be associated with anything. An illness, the age in which they lived, did they all wear blue in the months prior to their deaths? Did they eat bread: milk from the same cow? And so on.

At any rate, not everyone in 19th century England and America shared this superstition. Queen Victoria was a great admirer of the opal. She gave Prince Albert a Badge of the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1841 featuring the stone, which was also one of Prince Albert’s favourite gems. The Queen was known to present her daughters with opal jewellery on celebration of their weddings – certainly not an occasion to risk any association with bad luck.

In August 1886 edition of Godey’s Lady’s Book we see that the opal has recovered from the undeserved reputation of an unlucky talisman, it reads: “During the last few years, a reaction has taken place and American women are accepting the magic gem”. (Bell, p. 103).

By the end of the 19th century with the dominance of the Arts and Crafts and the Belle Epoque movements the opal was a popularly used stone in jewellery and smalls, used with extraordinary creativity that focused on the stones natural beauty.

Opal cameo of helmeted warrior attributed to Wilhelm Schmidt. In a diamond set enameled setting, Marked C&AG for C & A Giuliano, circa 1895. English. Collection of the British Museum.

Some earlier myths and responses

For centuries prior many peoples around the world had creation stories, folklore beliefs, wax lyrical responses to the opal. Discover them for yourself!

Pliny the Elder wrote The Natural History of the World in the First Century AD describing the opal:

“Made up of the glories of the most precious gems, to describe them is a matter of inexpressible difficulty. For there is amongst them the gentler fire of the ruby, there is the rich purple of the amethyst, there is the sea-green of the emerald, and all shining together in an indescribable union. Others, by an excessive heightening of their hues equal all the colours of the painter, others the flame of burning brimstone, or of a fire quickened by oil.”

Solid black opal cabachon ring with nice high dome and flashes of fire; with diamonds, set in 15 ct gold, stamped APEX (later Rodd, popular Australian jewellers) circa late 1920s-30s. From our MOLAM shop.

In Australia there are a different stories from a number of different Aboriginal language groups, some of which can be found in this interesting post

Further references can be found here on this fascinating site by opal enthusiasts.

There are some wonderful literary references to opals found on the CSIRO website

One of my favourite opals – a tiny portrait bust carved entirely out of one solid opal stone – Love! Found in Berlin, believed to be of German creation, was in the collection of a Berlin antiques collector. A portrait of whom? Germany had a central hub in Oberstein for the mineral and gemstone trade. From our MOLAM shop.


Bell, C. Jeanenne, Collecting Victorian Jewelry, 2004
Bell, C. Jeanenne, Answers to Questions About Old Jewelry, 2008.
British Museum
Cody, Andrew & Damien, The Opal Story, a corporate brochure for The National Opal Collection, 2008.
Gere, C, & Rudoe, J., Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria: A Mirror to the World,2010.
Opal Rainbow of the Desert – a CSIRO sponsored website
Opals Information Website
Phillips, Clare, Jewels & Jewellery, 2008
The Royal Collection website
Scholfield, Anne & Fahy, Kevin, Australian Jewellery 19th and Early 20th Century, 1990.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Wikipedia – search Opal and Anne of Geierstein

Beyond Death Do Us Part: A High Victorian Brooch

Here is a re-posting of a short piece I wrote for the fabulous site Art of Mourning. This brooch and accompanying sampler is from the MOLAM collection of yours truly. It embodies the potent sentimentality which inspires me to collect this area of jewellery. Enjoy!

Click here to read the post Beyond Death Do Us Part: A High Victorian Brooch.

Detail of the reverse.